Jerry don’t drive that Microbus anymore

By dusk, when we arrived at Panther Meadows, a pristine spot just below the tree line on Mount Shasta’s south face, the campground was nearly full. There was music wafting from somewhere downhill; we figured it was someone unhinging alfresco to old Grateful Dead bootlegs—no big deal.

Early the next morning, after noticing the variety of out-of-state plates in the parking lot, I overheard two mildly damaged stragglers discussing the previous evening’s events, which revolved around something called the String Cheese Incident. Apparently it was blissful to the point of psychic orgasm, because they kept babbling about it, and others soon joined in, and it was, like, um, wow, mannn …

Turned out the String Cheese Incident was one of those jammy bands that emerged, Phish-like, to fill the void left after Jerry Garcia drove his VW Microbus to that great noodle factory in the sky. SCI is a quintet from Boulder, Colorado, and its nomadic entourage—fans, acid casualties, trustafarians—follows it around the country, much like a certain San Francisco-based band’s fans once did. And, the ’60s throwbacks I was conversing with were wondering, since “the Cheese” was playing again that night, at the Mount Shasta Board & Ski Park, would I be going?

Hey, why not? Even if the music sucked, it might be a stellar occasion for people-watching.

Which it was. Like those in a Dead audience, “stringheads” or “cheeseheads” appear to experience music—and the attendant “vibe”—the way sea anemones experience water; everyone just sways with the flow. One entire section was cordoned off for people who wanted to undulate inside Hula Hoops.

I’d wanted to dial into that groove, too, but having watched too many episodes of Dragnet as an impressionable young sprout, it was not to be. Besides, because of the canned chili and boxed macaroni and cheese dinner we’d eaten, I was in severe gastric distress, and was fearful of asphyxiating anyone downwind of my pungent gaseous discharges.

Not that anyone would have noticed, given the thick cloud of doob smoke nearby. Gee whiz, so that’s how they get into the mood! In fact, over the course of the evening, various amateur pharmacology enthusiasts offered me mushrooms, ecstasy, LSD in cupcake form and blunts. These I politely declined, fearful of jeopardizing my Joe Friday-like objectivity with a drug-induced “buzz.”

As for the music, it didn’t suck, really. In fact, the String Cheese Incident was quite adept at recreating second-tier Workingman’s Dead-style hippie country and a Jean-Luc Ponty-like Euro-bluegrass-jazz fusion/pastiche, both of which served as nice interludes to what sounded like an endless loop of “Dark Star,” “St. Stephen” and “The Eleven” off Live/Dead. And the fine sound system was almost up to Dead standards, too.

Which is hunky dory if one enjoys undulating to the consonant rambling of stoner guitars. However, I’ll stick with Jack Webb and John Coltrane.